This was only my second trip to Renegade, but I'm really impressed with their choices of plays and musicals to produce. Last year I saw the beautiful new musical Eastland; they were only the second theater in the country to do it after Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre. As I mentioned, I don't know of any Twin Cities companies that have done Assassins in the last 5-10 years, which makes it an exciting and interesting choice for Renegade. Assassins premiered Off-Broadway in 1990, finally making it to Broadway in 2004 (starring Neil Patrick Harris, before he was NPH). It's a fantastical story about people who tried or succeeded in assassinating a U.S. President, all of them meeting in a sort of carnival/dream/underworld, outside of time and place. Very dark, very funny, and more than a little scary as you get a closer look at people who, for various reasons, felt they needed to commit these horrible acts of violence on the national stage. It doesn't go too deeply into any one story, in fact it's the shortest Sondheim musical I know of at a brisk 90 minutes. (Or it's supposed to be, Renegade unfortunately decided to put in an intermission, which felt jarring as it broke up the flow and momentum of the story.) But it does give you a glimpse into each of these troubled individuals, most of whom I had never heard of before, and make you want to know more (Gina recommends the book American Assassins: The Darker Side of Politics).
|Abe Curran as the Balladeer|
(photo courtesy of Renegade Theater)
The show is bookended by the two most famous assassins, John Wilkes Booth (a wonderful Andy Bennett) and Lee Harvey Oswald (Abe Curran again, spoiler alert), who is talked into his infamous act by all of the assassins who have come before. We also meet the anarchist Leon Czolgosz (Joe Cramer), the Jodie Foster-obsessed John Hinckley (Matias Valero), the stomach pained Guiseppe Zangara (Alec Schroeder), the would-be ambassador to France Charles Guiteau (Nathan Payne), the Santa suit wearing Samuel Byck (Matt Smith), and the two female assassins (Emily Bengston and Mary Fox, providing some comic relief), both of whom attempted to kill President Ford within a few weeks of each other. Each is dressed in period appropriate gear, spanning the 1800s through the 1980s, with much attention to detail even down to the beer cans and food containers.
|the cast of Assassins (photo courtesy of Renegade Theater)|
Assassins is an odd show, straddling the line between comedy and tragedy. While there are definitely some funny moments, there are also some dark, sad, and scary moments. Maybe it's difficult for some audiences to catch that shift, resulting in some inappropriate audience laughter on the night I attended. The score isn't easy either, with typical Sondheim clever wordiness and unexpected melodies. Director Katy Helbacka, the large and talented cast, the off-stage seven-piece orchestra directed by Patrick Colvin, and the design team has really done a wonderful job with this dark, quirky, and not so commonly produced musical.
It was another successful theater road trip to Duluth, and I hear there's another rare musical choice TBA that might get us up there again next year. Duluth is Minnesota's vacation destination, so if you find yourself there, check out what Renegade Theater Company is up to and experience some art along with your nature.